I received a message over the weekend—you know, those two days during which most folks do not focus on career-related work—from someone who asked to hire me to edit his manuscript then market the book. How flattering!

I declined the opportunity.

First, the potential client did not do his research and, at a minimum, check out my website or LinkedIn profile. I do not provide book marketing services. I never have.

Second, the potential client requested those services at a “highly professional level” in exchange for 20% of the royalties earned from future book sales. I don’t know a single professional, including myself, who will work for the promise of potential money. That’s called “working on spec.”

Any book published today must compete against millions—yes, millions—of books in the marketplace. Amazon alone lists more than 1 million books in its digital library. That means any book must have two of the three—a name brand author (e.g., Stephen King, Nora Roberts), a strategic marketing effort, a robust marketing budget—to stand out from the overwhelming competition. That marketing effort takes strategy, rigorous execution, and money. Marketing can only build awareness and, at the very best, generate demand. It cannot force people to buy. The speculative nature of marketing means that those who are expert at it deserve and should receive compensation regardless of whether the book actually achieves commercial success.

Traditional publishing companies publish on spec. Because no business stays in business for long if it can’t make a profit, traditional publishing companies only accept and publish those manuscripts they believe will generate profits for them. To produce books, publishers pay a cadre of professionals: editors, book designers, cover artists, etc. Those professionals don’t work on spec; they receive salaries and benefits whether the books the company produces sell or not. This continuous outlay of funds and the assumption of financial risk is why traditional publishing companies pay only a small percentage of royalties to authors.

When an author decides to self-publish, the author is the publisher and assumes all financial risk and hires the professionals needed to produce the quality product the reading public expects and deserves. This means the professionals that author hires expect and deserve to be paid for services rendered. They do not work on spec.

My basic thought is that if an author is not willing to invest his or her funds into the book, then the author should not expect readers to invest their hard-earned money into buying those books.

I realize that many authors do not have the budget to afford the expenses of editing, book design, and cover design on a whim. Many folks save to afford large purchases such as houses, cars, large appliances, and vacation journeys. Hiring professional services is no different. A savvy author knows those expenses are coming and saves up for them.

Publishing is a business. The professionals who work in the business, whether as employees of publishing companies or as freelance gig workers, expect and deserve payment for services rendered, not the promise of potential payment.

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